I’ve grown tired of Mock Drafts, so instead I’ve made myself the hypothetical GM of every NFL team and simulated the first round of this year’s draft (If Kevin Costner can be a fictional GM, why can’t I?). Anyway, I wrote about the first 10 picks in Part 1 and covered 11 more in Part 2. Here’s the final part of the trilogy.
We’ve nearly survived the first round of the NFL Draft! Now it starts to get interesting, as we reach the part of the draft in which the best teams of last year try to improve upon their already stellar rosters. It’s the final eleven picks of the first round. Let’s get drafting!
22. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: Ryan Shazier (OLB, Ohio State)
The Method to the Madness: Chip Kelly is a genius. After all the talk entering the 2013 season what about Kelly’s fast-paced attack, the Eagles only ranked 13th in plays run by the season’s end. Where you truly see Kelly’s master touch is in the Eagles’ per-play efficiency, as Philly ranked second in yards-per-play behind only the Denver Broncos. Kelly thrives with quick, athletic talent in his system, which makes the return of Jeremy Maclin a scary thought of the entire NFC East. Yet, while Kelly was breathing life into the Eagle’s offensive attack, it appears he forgot about his defense.
The Eagles gave up the 4th most total yards and the most passing yards of any team. However, this is more a product of Kelly’s hurry up offense scoring more often and giving his opponent the ball more often, with more opportunities to pick up yards (opposing teams ran more plays against the Eagles than any other team in the league). The numbers improve when you look at yards per play (12th worst, 5.5 yards per play) and yards per passing attempt (11th worst, 6.6 yards per attempt), but clearly the Eagles need to improve that defense if they want to advance beyond the Divisional round. There are still impressive cornerbacks available, but Shazier is a talent that cannot be passed up by a team in need of defensive help. Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles for a loss in 2013 and is one of five Buckeyes in the history of the program to lead the team in tackles in two consecutive seasons, joining James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Chris Spielman and Pepper Johnson (impressive company). Drafting Shazier is a big step in improving the Eagles’ defense, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly tests his ability to run some fade routs as well.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
The Method to the Madness: Success in Kansas City runs through Jamaal Charles. This team’s dependence on its start running back was never more evident than when Charles left the Chief’s Divisional Round matchup with a concussion and Kansas City collapsed without a back to run out the clock. But you don’t draft backup running backs in the first round (plus Knile Davils could still develop into a suitable running back). What Kansas City needs is a weapon in the passing game to pair with Dwayne Bowe, who disappeared for most of last season. Lee was the best wide receiver in college football in 2012, posting 1,721 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. But when Matt Barkley graduated, Lee’s stats suffered, finishing 2013 with only 791 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lee was also hampered by leg injuries, which hurt his draft stock. Yet, I’m still a believer in Lee and when pared with the accurate Alex Smith, I think Lee can be a productive wideout and help take the load off of Charles.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: Dee Ford (DE, Auburn)
The Method to the Madness: If the option of drafting a more accurate arm for Andy Dalton was available, I’d draft that arm. Or maybe we can build Dalton that bionic arm they give Darth Vader? Unfortunately, I feel obligated to ground this hypothetical draft in some form of reality, so rather than scanning the cosmos for an artificial upgrade for Dalton, I’m taking Dee Ford instead. The Bengals lost defensive end Michael Johnson to free agency, an under-appreciated cornerstone of Cincinnati’s defensive line. Johnson missed only one game in his five seasons in Cincy, accumulating 26.5 sacks and 134 tackles in that time. Dee Ford was a 2013 1st Team All-SEC selection and shined biggest in the National Championship game, sacking Jameis Winston twice. Having success for four seasons in the SEC, lined up against the some of the best offensive lineman in the league, speaks more volumes to Ford’s talent than any accolade could. Truth be told, I don’t want the Bengals relying on Dalton to win them any games this year, so Cincy need to make certain their defense is as successful as it was in 2013. Ford could very well be an improvement over the departed Johnson.
25. San Diego Chargers
The Pick: Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
The Method to the Madness: Benjamin’s low draft stock is a result of small sample size. We only have two years of tape on Benjamin at Florida State and he only played sparingly in 2012 before last year’s breakout campaign. He’s not polished and there’s a risk that his promising sophomore season (he redshirted as a freshman) was an anomaly. But what keeps Benjamin in the first round is his 6’5”, 240 lbs frame. If given the time, Benjamin could grow into a dominant receiver. Luckily, San Diego already has a talented young receiver to shoulder most of the team’s workload in Keenan Allen, while Benjamin matures. Allen and Benjamin could develop into a devastating receiving tandem with the former’s speed complimenting the latter’s size. In the modern pass-happy NFL, having two young wide receivers, who could each grow into one of the league’s best, never hurts.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts)
The Pick: Johnny Football (QB)
The Method to the Madness: Are you ready of unnecessary cuts to Johnny Manziel sitting in the green room for an entire night? I am! Manziel is too risky to take with a Top 10 draft pick. His style of play is incredibly conducive to injury and I’m not convinced he’s an accurate passer (a 3.0% interception rate is a lot higher than Bortles and Bridgewater). At the same time, he athleticism gives him the potential to be the best quarterback in this draft. I won’t draft a quarterback with a Top 10 pick based on potential, but at the end of the 1st Round, Johnny Football is worth the risk.
I think the Browns will be Manziel’s best chance for success. Why? Two words: Josh Gordon. Many of Manziel’s flaws were hidden in college when he threw up passes that were essentially jump ball and his former teammate Mike Evans would out muscle defensive backs and make the catch. Gordon could be Manziel’s safety blanket, mitigating some of the quarterback’s growing pains and keeping the nagging sports media off his back long enough for him to develop into a decent quarterback. Add in Watkins (or whatever skill position player Cleveland hopefully takes with its first pick), whose has devastating speed would pair perfectly with Manziel’s up-tempo game ,and Cleveland might just have one of the more exciting offenses in the league.
Bonus Draft Choice: I feel awful creating too much optimism about this Cleveland’s first round haul to even contemplate this, but remember that this draft class is deep with athletic running back talent. While the value of running backs has fallen so far that it’s likely non will go in the first round, this gives Cleveland the chance to add a franchise running back to its roster with one of its two third round picks (71 and 83 overall). Talented backs such as Jeremy Hill, Ka’Deem Carey and Lache Seastrunk will almost certainly be available after the second round. Just take a moment to image an offense with Manziel, Watkins, and Gordon, and then throw in Hill or Carey just for good measure. It’s a very young, but talented collection. One that may experience some growing pains, but come 2015, could be a devastating offensive attack.
BONUS Bonus Thought: With every expert projecting Manziel and Bortles going ahead of Teddy Bridgewater, it’s a more realistic scenario that the Browns could take Bridgewater here, who I think is the best quarterback in the draft! Take everything I said in the bonus thought section and magnify the potential if Bridgewater falls this far! (Having this much optimism for Cleveland can only end poorly. Why would I do this to Cleveland fans? Why?)
27. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: Louis Nix III (NT, Notre Dame)
The Method to the Madness: Man, the difference a Ryan can make. In 2012, the Saints were dead last in the league in yards allowed, giving up 908 more yards than the second worst New York Giants. The Saints hire Rob Ryan to head the defense and New Orleans was the 4th best team in regards to yards allowed in 2013. Taking Nix in the first round will go a long way to ensuring the continued success of the defensive unit, especially after cutting defensive end Will Smith this off season. The Saints could also use another wide receiver to replace Lance Moore and a versatile running back to replace Darren Sproles, but those can easily be found in later rounds. Party on Rob Ryan!
28. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Brandon Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
The Method to the Madness: I don’t know what’s more scary for the Panthers, that they don’t have any receivers of note on their roster or that Steve Smith is currently hell bent of exacting revenge on his former team. You know, the Steve Smith that broke the nose of a Carolina cornerback when they were still teammates! But luckily, Carolina can draft Steve Smith 2.0 (and part-time Bane impersonator. Seriously, those uniforms make the team look like a bunch of little Banes!) in the first round. 2013 Biletnikoff Award Winner Brandon Cooks looks like a clone of the Cats’ beloved wideout. Cook is currently listed at 5’10” and 189 lbs. When compared to Smith at 5’9” and 185 lbs, the newer, younger version could easily fit into the Panther’s offense. Carolina has steadily employed the zone-read since Cam Newton arrived in town. Keeping in mind that Cooks ran the best 40-time at the combine, he certainly has the speed to help mitigate the loss of so many other wideouts. While receivers usually adjust to the NFL slower than other positions, I expect Cooks to buck the trend and have a very successful 15 games this season. But that lone game against Baltimore (Steve Smith’s new team), I recommend Cooks run and hide. Runaway Cooks, and never return (until the following week).
29. New England Patriots
The Pick: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
The Method to the Madness: New England is not concerned about the regular season. It’s not concerned about winning its division. The Patriots have their sights set on the Broncos and that’s it. The AFC has become the NFL equivalent of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, with this basically becoming a battle between Denver and New England for a chance at the Super Bowl. The Broncos are still the heavy favorites, but the Patriots are the only team that seems like they can truly hang with the reigning AFC Champs. The Patriots sleep walk to an AFC East title every season, with Bill Belichick there to make sure his team picks up Mark Sanchez’s butt fumbles along the way. The Patriots are gearing up for another playoff meeting with the Broncos, which is why they signed Darrelle Revis this offseason and why they’re drafting Kyle Fuller in the first round. The Patriots need a deep secondary that’s ready to handle Peyton Manning’s countless options in the passing game and Fuller goes a long way in preparing the Pats for what will be their biggest game of the season.
30. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
The Method to the Madness: Has anyone told Jim Harbaugh that those khakis might be bad luck? The 49ers have consistently been the best team in the NFL these past three seasons, reaching the NFC Championship game three-straight years and were a successful fade route away from a Super Bowl Championship in 2012. Instead, San Francisco has come up empty handed, after Kyle Williams fumbled away their chances in 2011 and a few bad calls in its playoff matchup with Seattle. You’d think Harbaugh would switch up his outfit to try and get some good juju. But what the 49ers need now more than lady luck is a defensive back. Safety Donte Whitner left in free agency and the team released Carlos Rodgers. Verrett may be undersized for a typical cornerback, but he’s a scrappy player in coverage that would fit perfectly into San Francisco’s physical style of play. Hopefully he can treat his new coach to a small shopping spree with his signing bonus.
31. Denver Broncos
The Pick: Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Alabama)
The Method to the Madness: I miss those old Under Armour commercials with the dude who shouted, “We must protect this house!” That should be the mantra for the Broncos this season. But substitute house with Peyton Manning. Drafting Kouandjio is all about adding an immovable barrier between Manning and his opponents. Kouandjio is another all-pro offensive lineman from Alabama, where talented big men are as plentiful as Nick Saban’s scowls. The Broncos are a team built to win now. They improved their defense this offseason with DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, but their defense is not why they lost in the Super Bowl. The Broncos will only go as far as their prolific offense can take them and if they have aspirations of winning the title game, they need to be concerned about meeting a Seattle team that is returning all of its key players from last year’s Super Bowl winning squad. The Broncos already proved they can dominate every other team in the league, but if they want a punchers chance at besting Seattle in a rematch, they need to strengthen their offensive line. Kouandjio does just that.
32. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
The Method to the Madness: What do you give a team that has it all? Another offensive weapon. The Seahawks flourished with a receiving corps of relative no-names, while Percy Harvin spent most of the season trying to get healthy. Seattle let Golden Tate and the perennially injured Sidney Rice walk, so they’re now left with the hope the Harvin can stay healthy for a full year and their value-meal receivers can replicate their success from last season. Adding another talented pass catcher to the mix cannot hurt and Allen Robinson is just the guy. Robinson comes in at 6’3″ and 220 lbs, giving Russell Wilson a big downfield target that compliments Harvin’s speed. Seattle’s success has come through it’s dominant defense, but adding another offensive weapon only improves the chances the reigning Super Bowl champs will repeat in 2014.
Now, for the two teams that lack first round picks due to some unbelievably near sighted trades, here’s how I would proceed with their drafts.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts will be missing out on adding a premier talent to their roster this year, but at least they have Trent Richardson (cut to no one cheering in Indy). Still this year’s deep class of talented wide receivers should allow the Colts to add a young wideout they can develop to succeed in Reggie Wayne’s place, as the Colts legend nears the end of his career. Players like Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt or Martavis Bryant from Clemson can realistically be available when the Colts make their first selection with the 59th overall pick. At least they can’t trade away more picks for Richardson right? Right?!
The Washington D.C. Football Franchise: I’d quit. Seriously, I’d rather be the guy who runs onto the field and squirts water through a player’s face mask for some no name community college team than work for Dan Snyder. The players in Washington should take a page out of the Clippers’ peaceful protest playbook and play with their jerseys inside out. It’s embarrassing and offensive, and a change needs to be made.
Notes on Round 2 and Beyond
- Derek Carr is an overrated prospect. His 5,083 passing yards are impressive, but he also attempted the second most passes in college last year. Carr was only 35th in yards per attempt, so the raw total is misleading. Plus, has any player wanted to be compared to his pro-football playing sibling less than the little brother of David Carr?
- This will likely be the second consecutive season a running back won’t be taken in the first round, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t be getting a steal on late round backs. My personal favorites are Tre Mason, a bruising back out of Auburn, and Lache Seastrunk, a threat in the rushing and passing game from Baylor.
- The draft stocks of Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray are down right now because of injuries, but just because they won’t have an impact in 2014 doesn’t mean they won’t have successful careers. I like these two much more than Tom Savage, who I feel is getting more love because he has the potential to start next season. If your team takes Mettenberger or Murray as a backup or a player to be groomed as a future replacement for a franchise quarterback, I’d feel good about the direction of your team.
There you have it, the entire first round of the 2014 NFL Draft as picked by a guy who spends too much of his time invested in watching a sport he is nowhere physically gifted enough to play himself. It’s almost a certainty that some of these prospects will not pan out and I’ll look back on this a few years from now and laugh at what players I believed were prone for successful NFL careers. That, or I’ll cry as I realize I helped feed the drafts self-aggrandizing hype machine. Either way, here’s to an exciting three days of ruckus football fans booing Rodger Goodell every time he steps in front of a microphone!